Review Summary: A stylistic marriage borne from love, not convenience.
Imagine for a moment that Big Ups’ debut album Eighteen Hours of Static
was a volatile teenager with a penchant for violent fits and outbursts. Further still, imagine that he finally plucked up the courage to go and talk to that quirky interesting girl he’d be admiring from afar for so long - Spiderland
. To the surprise of many, Eighteen Hours of Static
hit it off immediately. Fast forward a couple of years and the unconventional couple had a baby called Before a Million Universes
- such a pretty name. As so often happens with genetics, the result of splicing musical DNA resulted in a perfect amalgamation of styles, bringing forth and showcasing the best of which both parents had to offer. Before a Million Universes
inherited the fire from her father’s belly as well as her mother’s depth and idiosyncrasies, and she went on to demonstrate both with a maturity which belied her tender years.
Despite the winsome way in which I’ve made the Slint comparison here, the similarities absolutely hold true. It’s an easy connection to make, and it also helps to answer the question of who the band listened to while cramped on the bus, touring their first album. Thick slabs of bass hit you in the face just moments into album opener “Contain Myself,” and the spoken word vocals come garnished with an unmistakably Brian McMahan flavour. While they dissipate when the song lurches into punchier, more familiar territory, it’s a facet of the album which runs strongly throughout. They take precedence on many of the songs, usurping but thankfully not totally displacing the shouts of anguish which ruled supreme on their debut effort. The album is crammed full of mid-tempo efforts which pulsate with energy occasionally rather than entirely, and despite a minor misstep or two such as the tepid “Feathers of Yes” and forgettable album closer “Yawp,” it’s a formula which works brilliantly.
With that said, the album isn’t totally devoid of the furious romps which comprised their debut. Second track “Capitalized” sets a blistering pace which doesn’t abate throughout, and early release “National Parks” follows a similar formula with just a modicum more restraint during the verses. The former sees lead vocalist Joe Galarraga cynically attack capitalism and the unwelcome grasp which the 9 to 5 corporate world holds on many, all amidst a backdrop of heavily distorted guitars and typically powerful bass. It’s a theme which typified their debut but Galarraga tackles deeper issues here, such as how societal beliefs are formed and held, and how the opinions and thoughts of entire populations can be shaped and manipulated. “National Parks” may be more restrained than “Capitalized,” but it lacks none of the punch. Screams of “she’s all alone!” burst out from the subdued verses before quickly dissipating and allowing the spoken word to rule once more, affording the song a spastic energy which builds nicely towards the song’s conclusion.
The finest which Before a Million Universes
has to offer is the brilliant “Meet Where We Are,” which marries both styles more effectively than anywhere else on the album. For three-quarters of its run time, it saunters alongside a bright, sleepy guitar line with Galarraga whispering softly alongside. His delivery falls somewhere between begrudging and indifferent, as if he’s been forced to tell you a story he’s not sure you deserve to hear, and which he’s confident you won’t fully appreciate once he’s finished telling you anyway. The song reaches a surprising boiling point after 3 and a half minutes, and it bubbles over quickly thanks to yet another impeccable bass line from the impressive Carlos Salguero. If you weren’t fully attentive to Galarraga’s story before you certainly are now, and your attention won’t deviate until the song reaches its satisfying end.
Before a Million Universes
wears its influences, or perhaps more accurately influence, unapologetically on its sleeve. But while it does borrow heavily from the seminal Spiderland
, thankfully it falls short of crude worship. Big Ups combine the elements in such a way that compliments their signature style without ever compromising their identity; Before a Million Universes
will almost certainly be one of the most interesting punk releases of 2016 because of that.